Headteacher recalls moment vulnerable pregnant pupil was given a bed — thanks to Independent-backed charity

The schoolgirl was able to finish her studies and leave school with English and maths qualifications once she reguarly got a good night’s sleep

Holly Evans
Saturday 23 December 2023 12:32 GMT
Zarach appeal: Geordie Greig on the 'phenomenal' difference giving beds to children makes

“It was game-changing,” says headteacher Andy Percival, as he recalled the moment a vulnerable teenager struggling at school was given a bed of her own and a good night’s sleep.

Pregnant and with significant gaps in her development, she was seen as a serious child protection concern for staff at Southway school in south Leeds.

Added to that the fact she had nowhere comfortable to sleep at night, her future looked grim.

But with a referral to bed charity Zarach – a charity backed by The Independent – and the continued support of her school, she was able to pick up the pieces of her life and finish school with four qualifications, including English and Maths.

The warehouse is filled with bedding, duvets, toiletries and pyjamas for disadvantaged children

“What Zarach managed to do was provide that child with a bed and a bedroom, as well as a safe environment and links to support agencies that her parents would never have been able to do,” said Mr Percival.

“The smile on her face coming into school knowing we’d helped secure that support for her was game-changing. At every point in her life, she felt she had been failed by professionals but she was now comfortable and secure.”

In less than two weeks, The Independent has helped Zarach smash its Christmas appeal target to raise £90,000 by Christmas Eve to fund 500 beds for children in the UK who are currently living without one, as well as toys, chocolate and a supermarket voucher for a festive meal.

The charity fundraises all year round, with beds, pillows, a duvet and bedding costing £150.

Having been founded in 2017 by deputy headteacher Bex Wilson, who set it up after witnessing firsthand the impact of bed poverty, the charity provides disadvantaged children with beds to help improve their mental wellbeing and education.

As principal of Southway, a short-term alternative provider for those with behavioural, social, mental and emotional difficulties, Mr Percival is accustomed to challenging situations and dealing with families in their greatest moment of need.

Headteacher Andy Percival said that the charity’s impact has been ‘life-changing’ for his pupils

While he had known about Zarach for several years through his association with Ms Wilson, his school has begun increasingly using their services in recent years as the cost-of-living crisis pushes more people into poverty.

“The levels of need and deprivation I have seen are nothing like what I have seen before in the last 26 years,” he said. “The need that is presented by the young people we work with is so significant.

“I think everybody lives within their means but disposable cash is no longer available and some of the lives of those in our care can reduce you to tears. We can’t do it all on our own, so to be able to utilise the support of Zarach is fantastic.”

The charity has delivered nearly 3,500 beds this year and will deliver 500 more by Christmas.

According to a recent report by child organisation Barnardo’s, nearly a million children live without a proper bed, and sleep on the floor, the sofa or share with family members.

This comes as the number of children living in relative poverty rises to one in four, while polling by YouGov found that an estimated 336,000 families have been unable to afford to replace or repair their children’s broken beds.

In order to identify families struggling with a lack of available bedding, the charity has formed close relationships with schools and teachers across the north-west of England.

Once receiving a referral from a school, family liaison workers at Zarach will conduct a phone call with the parents before organising a visit to take measurements for a bed to be delivered to the property.

Founder Bex Wilson set up Zarach after witnessing bed poverty at her school. A Barnardo’s report found that nearly a million children were without beds

“What we’re seeing in a post-pandemic world is far more complex and challenging behaviour, often undiagnosed but children with significant gaps in their educational and own development,” Mr Percival said. “These are kids that were not engaged throughout the pandemic.

“To be able to work with Zarach to secure a child with the basic expectation of a bed sends a clear message about what our role is. We see the impact of those kids coming in healthier, happier, calmer and with a sense of wellbeing. It doesn’t solve everything but it is such a significant change.

“That smile you see when you see a child coming into school having had a good night’s sleep is unbelievable – that is why we do this job.”

Geordie Greig, Editor-in-Chief of The Independent, said: “The Independent is proud to support Zarach’s campaign. It’s shocking that so many children do not have a bed to call their own, and it’s important to come together to help put that right.”

Children also receive pillows, pyjamas, duvets and chocolates

Lynn Perry MBE, Barnardo’s chief executive said: “Bed poverty is just one aspect of child poverty, yet it starkly illustrates the challenges faced by families not having enough money to afford the essentials needed to raise happy and healthy children.

“Families in crisis are having to prioritise essentials such as food, heating and electricity over things like replacing mouldy bedding or fixing a rotten or broken bed. Children are sharing beds and sleeping on the floor, all of which is affecting their development, attendance at school and mental health.

“We are pleased The Independent is highlighting this issue and helping to address it in the run up to Christmas, sadly a difficult time for many.”

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